Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Someday, after I've left this office job, I'll probably look back on it fondly. I tend to do that with all my past employment adventures:

Assembling barbecues and lawn mowers at giant warehouse stores wasn't bad, except for repeating, "No, ma'am, sorry, I don't actually work for Home Depot, so I have no idea where the doorknobs section is."

Being a gofer for producers and directors was interesting. Especially taking their car to get smog-checked, buying toys for their kids, refilling their anti-freak-out medication at the pharmacy and picking up dozens of cans of Tender Vittles for the director's best friend, Miss Whisker-Schnookiekins. Apparently, that's what the magic of movie-making is all about, baby.

What else? Let's see... Working in the music box warehouse, where I boxed boxes; escorting Cookie Monster through the offices of the L.A. Times; packing food rations for Israeli soldiers (complete with halvah candy bars); placing bets in Vegas for a professional gambler--all fascinating experiences.

I'm not being sarcastic. I wouldn't want to do those jobs again, but I learned a lot about the world and the human condition from those gigs. My parents would say that hard work builds character.

Well, if that's true, you could erect a skyscraper of personality working construction. Since my dad was in the business, he hooked me up each summer I was in college. I went all over NYC, used different power tools, met tons of incredibly bizarre individuals.

On one site, I had to use a jackhammer all day. That was the worst. Tearing up the floor -- and my body -- with this loud, nausea-inducing hydraulic implement of destruction. The cement dust got into every pore. Then the other guys on the site complained about the concrete cloud I was creating, so I watered down the ground before I ripped into it again. That just spewed cement mud all over me. I limped home, every muscle aching, deafened from the noise, looking like some kind of hobbling crusty monster. It would take a couple of hours to wash off the dirt - the gray, brown, black soot came off in layers like I was a human gobstopper. Then I'd start all over the next day.

And my most memorable experience was the Bronx job. I spent a whole summer up at the VA Hospital on Kingsbridge Road, a few subway stops up from Yankee Stadium. They had a non-denominational chapel that needed renovating. It was a huge undertaking; there were dozens of subcontractors milling about there every day. They were from all over -- a veritable UN of skilled labor -- and on the surface these people seemed like an assortment of stereotypes. But eventually I got to really know -- and love -- every one of those guys. Before I went back to school the next semester, I drew this cartoon to commemorate it all.

Abuhanif and Jahangir Alam were a few of many masonry men from Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh. Friendly guys, they would shout "Hey, Big Boss!" every morning. Not that I had any authority on the job; they just didn't say much else in English. Eventually they got my name right; it took me a while to do the same, 'cause every one of them had "Mohammed" as a first name.

For whatever reason, it's the construction workers' code to hoot and holler at every woman that passes by. Mark and Carlos didn't follow the rules exactly - they waited only 'til jailbait girls were in earshot before they let loose with "Heyyyyy, mama! Ooh, chickie-chickie-babeeeeee!"

Jim "Skeebo" Bullock was a close business associate of my dad's. Ever since he moved up from Raleigh, Skeebo worked very hard at subcontracting jobs. But not so much at his diction. Maybe it was just me having trouble understanding that southern drawl one gets from living in "Nawcarrlahnah".

Perhaps today, with the widespread use of cellphones, Jack Lurch would've been able to utilize a hands-free remote to continue his conversations while insulating the pipes and, uh, fitting the steam.

Joe Matos was a funny little loudmouth, a carpenter with a Napoleon complex. Picture a Puerto-Rican Joe Pesci saying, "Hey, I know your old man, he's awright. There's a lotta pricks in this business. Your father - not a prick."

Walk through the job on any given day and you'd hear -- though not always see -- Frankie the 'Lectrician and his boss, Les, cursing each other out from within the ceilings, the walls, etc. It was as if the chapel was haunted by a couple of foul-mouthed poltergeists.

There's more money to be made in the private sector, but you could easily get screwed. With city jobs, you'll get paid, sooner or later. But the paperwork and red tape and change orders and delays -- by vendors and general contractors Saul Garbas and Byron Coleman -- could drive you nuts waiting.

Loved the conversations between laborers Juan DeJesus and Marcus Bolton. Juan would tell long stories about his messed-up Brooklyn apartment or life back in Puerto Rico, and Mississippi Marcus would just kinda repeat what he said in his own words.
Juan: Man, my brother was drinkin' so much, he had to go in the bushes.
Marcus: Yeah, was takin' a piss, right, Johnny?
Juan: Yeah! And this bee came along and he got stung. Y'know, down there!
Marcus: Yeah, nailed him right on the pecker, right, Johnny?
Juan: Man, he said it hurt, but didn't mind it getting all red and shit...
Marcus: Yeah, swoled up like a muthafucka, right, Johnny?

Bernie the plumber kinda scared me. He was a big guy who was pissed off all the time, and heavily peppered his rants with angry four-letter words. But I probably didn't need to worry so much - I heard he thought this fuckin' cartoon was fuckin' funny.

The bane of the job was accessing a sewage pipe that was 12-feet underground. It was a fragile clay pipe, which meant we couldn't excavate the whole thing with a bulldozer, but digging by hand, we soon hit heavy boulders, and had to hire a hoe-ram to break through. The fixtures on the damn machine never worked right, and Stanley Krupski would threaten to walk off the job. Gee, Operator Krupski, Krups you!

Then poor Hans Gupta would arrive. I can't remember if he was the safety inspector or the VA's construction engineer, but he was always rattling on in his thick Indian accent about someone possibly falling in the trench, when he was the only one facing that peril, walking around the hole in his suit and low-traction Oxford shoes.

Gary Bolton, Marcus's brother, was unwaveringly optimistic about finishing the job. He'd spit his tobacco juice and keep digging, even as it rained every other day that summer. He'd clear out a few feet one day, and the rain would wash the dirt back in that night. Me, Marcus and Juan and others also jumped into the hole to help, but no one was as positive-thinking as Gary.
Juan: Man, we're like a buncha amateurs on this job.
Marcus: Yeah, couple o'rookies, right, Johnny?
Juan: Shit man, we ain't never gonna get done.
Marcus. Yeah. We gonna be down here for the rest of our lives, right, Johnny?

But Marcus was wrong; Gary was right - it eventually got done, and we all moved onto other jobs. I'd see those guys on other construction sites, and when I went back in New York I'd occasionally hear stories about other stuff they were up to.

Well, I better get back to shuffling papers. Hard to believe I'm gonna miss this office crap someday. But who knew I'd look back on the Bronx job as such good times...?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Here's something new. I tried audioblogger, and recorded a voicemail message I made with my friend John, an extremely multi-talented guy who can learn to play guitar in about a month, but would rather squander his abilities by becoming (gasp!) a lawyer. I still haven't forgiven him for that.

We laid this track down one afternoon, and decided it was too long for any answering machine, but I still like it. This blues song is scratchy and poorly produced, just like the early works of Muddy Waters. That's Johnny V on rhythm and slide guitar and vocals and yours truly playin' da harmonica and doing background vocals (lyrics in parentheses).

this is an audio post - click to play

Mike Not Home Blues

Well, I... called up Mike this mornin', just to give him a little news
(Yeah, what was you gonna tell him?)
Yeah, I called Mike this mornin', just to give him a little bit o' news... and the schmo wasn't even there
(Yeah, what a schmo)
Well, I got those I-called-up-Mike-on-the-phone-and-I-got-his-answering-machine-message-and-it-took-about-a-half-an-hour-for-it-to-finish-and-he-probably-went-out-drinkin'-last-night-and-that's-why-he-didn't-answer-the-phone-because-he's-sleepin'-'til-two-o'clock-in-the-afternoon-and-now-he's-too-lazy-to-get-up-an'-pick-up-the-phone.... GASP....blues!
(Yeah, I get those every day)
I'm glad this song is over... leave your name and number.
(Da'ssit. Yeah.)

One photo, three captions. Let's dress it up with some more.

Damn, I was gonna wear that tonight!
The women at this salt-mine-slash-tailor shop sure are prettier than at any other natural-resource-slash-clothing-manufacturing plant.
OK, do I tell her she's putting her left leg into the right sleeve of a jacket? Nah, I wanna see this...

Saturday, June 26, 2004

So get this – the landlord has moved into our building. Up from Orange County where the man probably had a nice house in Irvine, just to dwell in our one-bedroom housing complex in Santa Monica. Why?

Because that’s the only way he could kick out one of the residents. The woman who was in that apartment was a schoolteacher, had two grown kids, nearing retirement, and had lived in the unit for over twenty years. So she probably paid nothing in rent.

I saw the landlord, Avi, moving in his boxes and stuff, so I tried to get the scoop directly from him. But with this guy, you gotta read between the lines. He acts like he’s really interested in my life. Avi would ask, in his Israeli accent (he sounds like Jackie Mason), "So, Michael, how’s your career? Will you be selling your writing soon?" Putz. Doesn’t give two shits about me. When I told him about my family stuff--my mom’s stroke, my dad dying-- he didn’t offer condolences or ask any further questions. "You see?" he said. "Life is hard." Thanks for the heads up, ya condescending schmuck. It's obvious he only wants me to hit it big so I’ll move out and he can charge twice or three times what he gets from me.

See, I got in on this place cheap – like under $400. It’s gone up since then, but not a hell of a lot. I moved in before Santa Monica revoked rent control. Under the grandfather clause, they can’t raise my rent more than 3% a year, which is why I’ve stayed here so long.

Avi once offered me a couple of thousand dollars to move out. Yeah, right. That wouldn’t make up more than a few months’ difference in rent if I found a similar crib in this ‘hood.

I asked Avi what happened to the nice lady who lived here. Then he looked as squirrelly as our furry rodent neighbors. "She went to Europe," he said.

"What, for good? She just left, forever?" No answer. "Avi," I said, "how long ‘til you exile me across the pond?"

He kinda smiled, and then just went to his catchphrase."So, Michael, how’s your career going? Will you be selling your writing soon?"

I told him now I just sell drugs out of my apartment; that’s how I pay the rent. "Hey, if you need the hook-up, just come down to Unit 6. Special resident discount on crack and speedballs."

I love being a wiseass. I was back from a long run, tired and sweaty, and couldn’t get into this now.

The other night I was running down 14th Street, between San Vicente Blvd. and Montana – a really nice area. And then I stopped. I was in the middle of the street – no cars – and when I stopped making footsteps or gasping for breath... it was dead silent! Silence! In Los Angeles! I gotta move here! Everyone I know is taking advantage of the low interest rates, buying condos and houses; maybe I should, too.

Sure, but these houses probably go for at least a million, probably more like two or three. Damn.

Someday, I’m gonna have enough money to do it. Hey, I can dream. Yeah, maybe someday soon. Then, the only problem would be that I’d hate to move out and give Avi the satisfaction...

Friday, June 25, 2004

Nick at work here is always talking about his pet rabbit, Pudge. Pudge is your typical bunny, scampering around, nibbling carrots, leaving "cocopuffs" everywhere... Oh yeah, he also likes to hump his big rubber ball all the time. Pudge is probably trying to multiply like, well, like rabbits, but only the orb is gettin' his bunny-love, poor bastard. Anyway, Nick told me he'd buy me lunch if I would illustrate a bumper sticker to decorate Pudge's rabbit hutch. It's not the most inspired idea, or my best artwork. But this is the first time I was commissioned to depict animal pornography.

Thank heaven the weekend’s almost here. I’ve already started taking my mind off that evil vixen called the day-job, and went to an early screening of Spider-Man 2. It’s gonna be huge--delivers on the action and the characters are actually fleshed out, unlike Daredevil or Hulk and other disappointments. The villain is just as stupidly psychotic as in the first Spidey film, but Doctor Octopus, like in the Marvel Comics, is an awesome foe for the Web-Head. The best line was when Aunt May tells Peter Parker she got rid of his comic book collection. Every guy in the audience, including me, groaned in sympathy. Man, if I kept some of the ones I had as a kid, I coulda financed this movie myself. Actually, worse was when my mom would threaten to tear up my MAD magazines if I didn’t do my chores. No, Mom-- I’ll rake the yard, just don’t ruin my Super Special! How am I gonna memorize all the Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions? I didn’t even get to do the Fold-In yet!

Speaking of family, my aunt and uncle are coming to town this weekend. They’re only in their 60s, but they’ve retired, living in Mexico and travelling the world. Coupla aging hippies, God bless ‘em. They came to LA around the time of my birthday last year, so they joined my little b-day gathering. I had a long table at the Belmont, filled on one side with my runner friends, the other with my writer friends. In the middle was me, my sister, and the ol’ relatives. Unk would introduce himself to everyone as "Mike’s Crazy Uncle Barry". Then he’d comb out his long gray hair and wipe the beer off his bushy gray mustache and belch.

I idolized this man when I was a kid. He was a swinging bachelor who let me stay up all hours of the night, took me to R-rated movies, and... he had a dog! (I didn’t get to get my beloved Golden Retriever ‘til I was older.) Once when I was staying over at Barry’s place, he did tell me to go bed, wouldn’t let me stay up. He was pretty adamant about it, which wasn’t like him. So a little later, curiosity getting the best of me, I got up, snuck over to his room, tiptoeing.... He was a-rollin’ and tumblin’ with some hot lady. I was sufficiently grossed out, but even at that age, I had to give the man props for scoring on a weekend he had the kid (I later found out he used his li’l nephew Mikey as babe bait, and I guess it worked.) This was before he got married. Now he’s still all right, but, I dunno, just not as cool as I thought when I was a kid.

But hey, there’s still Spider-Man.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I haven't posted in a few days 'cause I've been too busy. I found the time to comment on everyone else's sites -- who could resist talk about masturbation, dating co-workers and sizing up body parts -- but to compose anything new, I'm too scatterbrained now.

I dropped a stack of papers on the floor a few hours ago, and fuck it, I'm not picking them up. Let 'em sit there, strewn across the office carpet like a deck of oversized cards. 5200 Pick-up! I don't care anymore. I could organize them into a nice array of stacks, just to have another influx, a forest's worth of white bond, to be sorted in and shred my hands with papercuts. That's how I dropped them in the first place.

The paperwork in this office is over-fucking-whelming. I'm not a damn file clerk – I've got work that's a little more challenging than that, but it's gotten to the point that that's what I'm consumed with all day. A monkey can do this. Sort those papers, monkey-boy! I'm building sandcastles against the tide – as soon as I got some kind of order to it going, swoosh! – another wave of bullshit correspondence, agreements, e-mails, etc. No, it's like the post office. Like the mail, this crap never stops. I won't go postal on anyone, but if I don't get outta here soon, I can't be held responsible for my actions.

When I started here I told my boss not to do double-filing. A work file and a regular file is a redundant waste. But no, I was told, it makes things easier, in case something goes missing. Like my sanity. Now the office is overrun with files that are so fat they look like they were painted by Fernando Botero, too obese to fit in the drawers, and the boss asked me – could I spend some time and maybe thin out the files? Jesus. I'm not the Jenny Craig of Filemakers. This is ridiculous.

Sigh... Just needed to vent.

I'm trying to get my act in gear to get the hell outta this job. I finally got a working version of my résumé together, with a lot more fiction you'd find in one of my blog entries. And I've been making calls and schmoozing and finding out what's out there, but this could take a while. So I'll keep plugging away at the job search, and get back to writing new blog entries.

But I'm not picking up those fucking papers.

Monday, June 21, 2004

For your captivating captioning pleasure...

Ha! Scissors cuts paper. You buy the next round.
That's right -- two girls at once. They both told me, "Fuck off, you smarmy asshole!"

Friday, June 18, 2004

It's been a couple of years since my dad died, but I still think about him all the time, especially as these greeting card holidays roll around. Instead of giving Hallmark my money (and giving Pops some impersonal card), I'd do a cartoon like this one, lampooning the ol' man's latest escapades with lotsa inside jokes. Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

My apartment at night, my roommates and me,
Got the lights and the stereo, the cable TV.
Right then E-lectricity had just begun to fade.
Con Edison's a business that insists on getting paid.
Yeah, see, 2 weeks ago, we managed to deduce
If we pay our bills soon they'd be cuttin' off our juice.
So we pulled out checks, wrote some figures down,
Gave my share to my roomie 'cause he works midtown.
He said, "I'll drop it off. No problem. At my leisure."
But it seems he got a case of selective amnesia.
The business relationship had simply gone sour:
They didn't get our money so we didn't get their power.
So it's dark, I'm spelunkin'. Y'know it's hard to handle
When the whole damn place ain't got one damn candle.
No lights, no alarm clock. I tell you it's a pity
'Cause we're the only cavemen livin' here in New York City
Now I see the light. Advice I take to heart:
Don't rely on your roomie. You'll be sittin' in the dark.

I'm not one of those people who can't wait for a band to put out a new album, has to rush out to Tower Records on the release date and play the CD over and over.

Unless it's the Beastie Boys.

I got their new CD yesterday. And I tell ya, whenever I listen to Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond and Adam Horowitz, I think, "Man, I could do that." I don't mean that in a bad way. People said the same thing about George M. Cohan's songs. But as simple as they were, no one else was composing classics like "Over There" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy". And who else but da B-Boyz could pen such brilliant rhymes as "More Adidas sneakers than a plumbers got pliers / Got more suits than Jacoby & Myers."

After I first heard the album "Paul's Boutique" I was inspired. I could relate to these guys. Like the Beasties, I was a white Jewish kid from the east coast. In fact, just like them, I eventually moved out to LA, though I'm always a New Yorker at heart. Hey, Mike D was like Mike me. That's why I wrote raps like the one above. Or this one:

Well, I gotta getta job, gotta start my career
'Cause graduation's over, real world is here.
Got a red power tie and a jacket & shooz
Headed on out to my interviewz
I get to the office, I'm lookin' round the place.
The man's readin' the paper, it's coverin' up his face.
"May I sit down?" I ask. "Yes you may."
But the guy don't even ask for my résumé.
He says, "Impress me boy, and you I will hire."
So I pull out my lighter, set his paper on fire.
He's yellin' & screamin' & callin' me names
While the Wall Street Journal goes up in flames.
Presses a button to call for security
Smoke detector sensed the impurity
Sprinkler goes off, people start to shout
An emergency exit – I rush right out
I'm runnin' & drippin' & my shooz iz squishin'
Remindin' me that I had failed on my mission
I got no job but I had lotsa fun
Guess I'm just destined to be a bum.

Still true today.

I even got together with a friend and recorded it on his 4-track mixer. Complete with synth drums, keyboards, an echo-machine, and overdubs.

And after hearing the playback... I decided to stick to writing, not rapping.

Still, after hearing "To the 5 Boroughs", I'm getting inspired to write up some new verses about my life these days.

Let's see: Grog, flog, demagogue... what else rhymes with blog...?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Nobody likes going to the dentist. Who enjoys being prodded and poked in the mouth, tortured like Dustin Hoffman in "Marathon Man" ("Is it safe?")? Here's a few more reasons I dread seeing Torquemada, DDS:

1. He charges an arm and a leg for my teeth. When I questioned him on why the cost of a cleaning has gone up 20% since my last visit – I don't think gas prices have increased that fast – he cited the rising cost of dentistry. Maybe. Hey, did he redecorate this Beverly Hills office since last time?

2. My company has a lousy dental plan. They allot a small yearly sum of money. Anything over that is out-of-pocket. Which is why I was concerned about the price.

3. The hygienist, like the rest of the staff, is very nice and does a good job, but does she need to go on about how she's taking classes in "personal rediscovery" while I'm under the scraper? I'm a captive audience – I can't change the subject while there's a saliva-sucker-thing in my mouth. So while my gums are getting bored with her sharp implements, my mind is getting bored with her dull stories about "life reawakenings." Sounds like a cult to me. I was concerned that the fluoride rinse was really electric Kool-Aid.

4. They gave Jerry a birthday card and not me. :(

Hey -- one month after I had installed my sitemeter, this blog had 100 hits.
In this past second month, it reached 1,000.
Wow, at this rate, by the end of the year, maybe this blog will be read by all of China.
Thanks a billion to everyone for visiting and commenting and linking -- I've enjoyed your blogs as well.
I'll start writing posts in Mandarin, too...

Monday, June 14, 2004

We had dozens of blurbs for this photo. I included the one below because it was the shortest. Feel free to go long if you need to with your own captions - my typing fingers get tired.

I'm Detective John Mantis. These are my partners, Detectives Luis Cicada and Bernard Moth. We're here to investigate an insecticide.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Yankees are coming!

Next week, the Bronx Bombers continue their interleague stint by facing the L.A. Dodgers. If I’m not mistaken, the last time the Yankees played in Dodger Stadium was during the 1981 World Series.

I remember, as a little kid, watching the cross-country rivals battle it out in several World Series. Ahh, the memories – Phil "Scooter" Rizutto exclaiming "Holy cow!" as he announced for Channel 9, WPIX. Cheering on that New York outfield – Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers and Lou Pinella. I loved the pitchers with their wacky names: "Catfish" Hunter, Sparky Lyle, "Goose" Gossage, Dick Tidrow (hee-hee... "Dick"... Did I mention I was a little kid?) Me and my friend from Little League would crack up at all the stupid jokes we made while watching the games.

I sucked at baseball, by the way. My friend was pretty good, but I couldn’t hit, throw, or field. A triple-threat to our own team. But being a short kid, I did get walked a lot. And then I’d steal second, ‘cause I liked being sneaky, and sliding into the base, making a cloud of dirt. Getting all schmutzy was fun.

Anyway, it was okay that I stunk; I knew what good ballplaying looked like. And if you ask me, the Yankees are in top form, firing on all cylinders (best record in MLB right now). So it’ll be great to see them get back at the Dodgers (LA had gotten the last laugh, winning the ’81 series). I’m going to the ballpark next weekend and I couldn’t be more excited.

But I’m not sure how much of the game I’ll get to see. I’m joining my friends who have two little kids – Hannah and Jacob.

Jacob is around one and a half. I call him J-Dawg. His parents don’t like it but J-Dawg says it’s no thang. Okay, he doesn’t really say much at all; he’s a pretty shy little boy. Last time I saw him he warmed up to me, though. For some reason he was fascinated by this small metal rack containing drink coasters. The kid would dump out the coasters, and I’d help him put them all back. J-Dawg loved doing this. When we were done, I’d say, "Ta-da" and he’d imitate me, sort of. Smiling bright-eyed, it would come out his mouth more like: "Daaaah!"

His sister is just as cute, but twice as friendly. I think I spoil her. Not by buying her things – she’s already got more toys than she can possibly play with – but by being a big toy. Another airplane ride? Sure. She’d take my hands and want me to lift her up in the air. Again and again. As a toddler, it was no big deal. But now– what is she now? 40, 50 pounds? Those military presses get tiring after a while. Still, how can I refuse when she says, "Ready? One-two-three. C’mon, Michael! Please? Onetwothree!" After a day with her, my shoulders are mangled.

My face, too. Another favorite game is "Squish Mike’s Face". I guess among all her toys, she doesn’t have any Silly Putty, so my mug will have to do. I mutter: "I cnt twk wiff Hannah squshun muh fuss" and after she lets go, "ahh, it is simply much easier to speak clearly when Hannah isn’t squishing my – ohno now ah cnt twk bucause muh fuss is squshd up agun." To a five-year-old, apparently, this is hysterical.

Maybe I can watch the ballgame, if I get her to focus on it, too. She was at the Clippers-Spurs game with us. I asked Hannah which team she liked, and she wasn’t sure. So I explained that San Antonio were last year’s champs, but the Clippers were from L.A., like her. I was rooting for the Clippers, but she could make her own choice. She said, "Hmmm. I think I’ll wait to see how the teams play, and then I’ll decide." As soon as the Spurs pulled into the lead, that was her team. You could call her a fair-weather fan, but I think she’s just smart. The precocious kid likes to bet on the winning horse.

Hmm, maybe by that reasoning, I won’t be the only Yankees fan in our section. In any case, it’ll be a great time.


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Can we bury Reagan already so we can focus on mourning Ray Charles? I was sad to hear he passed away. Ronnie supposedly was the Great Communicator, but he never spoke to me the way Ray did, w/songs like "What'd I Say", "Georgia on My Mind", "Busted", "America the Beautiful", "But On the Other Hand, Baby", "Outskirts of Town", "Danger Zone" -- the list and Ray's legacy goes on....

Today, I had a brief conversation with one of the big bosses in the bathroom.

I rarely talk to him. Every now and then I'll have to do some work for a client of his, and he'll bark instructions that are utterly vague or completely illogical. If I ask for clarification, he gets snippy. "I don't wanna have a discussion - just do it!" Then I have to make an executive decision, which will invariably be wrong and we start all over again. I've been assured not to worry - he has this kind of relationship with everybody at the company. And since I don't engage in these Abbott & Costello routines with him often, it's no big deal.

But today, as I was standing at the urinal, doing my business, I see he's at the one next to me. I politely acknowledge him using the proper men's room etiquette: You stay facing forward, but nod and say "Hey." If you're so inclined, you can throw in a "What's happenin'?" or "How's it goin'?" (Do not say, "How's it hangin'?")

But the boss must've gone to a different finishing school. "Michael," he said to me, "what is it you do?"

Huh? Did he mean like, right now? What, was he having trouble? Did he want, like, instructions or something? Should I tell him: Just picture a waterfall, dude, it'll all be fine...

Then I thought, maybe he meant what is it I do at the office, as if I'm not doing my job. Hey, when I'm not working on my own writing, checking my e-mail, surfing the web or posting to this blog... I get plenty of work done, pal.

But before I started defending myself, I asked what he meant, dreading that he may come back with, "I don't wanna have a discussion - just do it!"

He said, "I mean what do you do when you're not at work? What's your 'gig'?"

Oh, he was just trying to get to know me. That was nice, especially since he wasn't assuming that it was my life's ambition to be a lobotomized paper-pusher. "I'm a writer," I said.

He nodded, and I quickly zipped up, washed my hands and got outta there. Friendly conversation or not, I'd rather not have it in the loo. Actually, no matter the location, I didn't really want it to go any further. He might ask me what kind of writing do I do? Have I had success? Could I he read something I wrote? Maybe he could help me sell something...?

I know - if he were to say that - it would seem like a good thing. But I don't want his help. I've been in this situation before.

I once worked at a company that produced and distributed TV shows and feature films. They sold a lot of stuff to foreign territories. I know this because I was working the international TV sales department. You'd be amazed and what kind of crapola they could distribute to the world. I can only assume they were starved for entertainment in places like Slovakia and Myanmar.

Well, hey, I had just written and produced an independent feature with my friends. For a low-budget film, it turned out pretty good. We got some nibbles but no bites from the domestic distributors. Maybe we could sell it overseas.

I took a meeting with the president of the department, a super-extroverted guy in a fancy suit with the suspenders and power tie. I think the man sold used cars prior to having this job, as he flashed his Cheshire-Cat grin and said he looked forward to viewing the tape of our movie.

Months went by and I never heard anything. I'd occasionally pass him the hallway, hearing him talk about his upcoming golf weekend in Pebble Beach or ski trip at Jackson Hole. Once or twice I politely asked if he watched the film yet (it's only 89 minutes), and he'd wink, fire his finger-guns at me and say, "Don't worry, I haven't forgotten 'boutcha."

I figured he'd forgotten 'boutme. But then one day, as I was drying my hands in the men's room, the Prez walked in. "Hey, I saw your movie the other day," he said.

"Great." I figured we'd discuss it outside, but he just kept talking.

"Yeah, it was funny," and he headed straight to the urinal and continued. "But the production value seemed kinda low. How much was the budget?"

"Uh, well, um..." Normally I'd have no problem answering. But I just couldn't talk to the guy. Not like this. He had his back to me the whole time. And I didn't want to try to look him in the eye, anyway, not while he had his dick in his hands.

Do you remember what I said about men's room etiquette? Do you remember what Seinfeld said? You keep your distance from someone at the ATM or at the urinal. Basically, when a man's taking valuables out of his pants, you just stay away.

So why do these head honchos feel a need to powwow in the crapper?

It was so uncomfortable, hovering in the foyer of the men's room, listening to this jerk blab on and on about how there wasn't that much international potential for a dialogue-intense feature that might not translate blah blah blah...

In this business, you have to face a lot of rejection. Comes with the territory, and you learn to develop a thick skin. So I didn't mind that he passed on the movie. Just wish he hadn't pissed on it, too.

The company, by the way, lost tons of money, and had to downsize, so Prez got laid off. Not sure if he went back to huckstering for Hyundai or what. I had already quit.

I took a job where I made more money - a different place than I'm at now - but the head of the company was more or less the same as the boss here. Every month he'd go on the rag, bitching at all the employees because the billing wasn't done, when it was always the cheapo computer system that caused the problem.

I will say this for the guy - he didn't talk to me in the men's room. Whenever I ran into him there, he was usually staring in the mirror, adjusting that raccoon of a rug he wore on his head. The man was in his 50s or 60s, but had the hairline of a teenager. I figured there had to be a correlation between his wig and him wigging out.

I stole the title "Hell Toupee" from an episode of the Simpsons. I think they stole it from the anthology series Amazing Stories. Feel free to steal it yourself.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Okay, let's do it again. What's this woman saying?
Below are a couple of captions to get you started....

I thought I was gonna manage a pro baseball team, but I guess I should've taken them literally when they said I'd be outside, playing nursemaid to nine babies.
This outdoor therapy isn't helping these mentally-disturbed children. They're still a bunch of basket cases!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

When I went to the LA Gun Club shooting range this weekend, it suddenly reminded me of an event in my life, something that happened to me that I had tried to put out of my mind:

The time I got shot.

Things like that can be pretty traumatic – taking a high-caliber bullet in the chest, your guts splattering out, getting knocked back on your ass, laying on the floor, dying, as the blood soaks your clothes...

Of course, I’m talking about a movie I was in.

Yes, once again, a fellow writer friend cast me in his film. He had gotten a small break when a very, very minor indie company let him helm a direct-to-video feature. It was especially startling because a few months earlier this friend was broke, crashing on my couch. Now he wanted to return the favor to me. Even though the movie would be starring some aging B-level former TV stars and character-actors, it was going to be non-union. So, he told me, his friends could have small parts and maybe I could even get to say a few lines of dialogue.

I thanked him but let him know that I didn’t care if I never got to say a word. I wanted to get shot. I had read the script, and knew it was a shoot-em-up action flick. My friend was trying to channel Sergio Leone when he wrote it. Pistol-packin’, tough-talkin’, Mexican-standoffin’ stuff with stock footage of things blowin’ up real good. I told my friend, if I can shoot someone, great, but even better if I could get shot. Man, that would be cool...

Well, I got my wish and I was right. The last night of production, I was there on the set for the big show-down. Me and a few other guys versus former TV star and B-level actors in the requisite Abandoned Warehouse. When my moment came, I did what actors love to do – tear up the scenery, literally. I threw over an huge metal desk – bam! -- knocked an old computer onto the floor – crash! – and used the desk to shield me as I came up, gun blazing – bang, bang! – but Former TV Star was a better shot – blam! – nailed me in the chest, the squib exploding – splat! – and I fell back against the wall – slam! – slid down – uh... slide! – leaving a trail of blood on the wall, and fell to the floor – dead! I mean, dead.

There was still more to the scene. The villain and hero had to go mano-a-mano. Check the Peckinpah handbook – it’s the rules. So I had to lay on the floor, dead, while these two postured for a while and then finally pulled the trigger on each other. It was three in the morning, we had been there since 7AM, and I was covered in sticky type AB negative corn syrup. But I didn’t mind. Really. I was in a movie. Hooray for Hollywood, dude.

The worst part was waiting for those last gunshots. It’s not as bad when you’re firing the gun -- you know it’s coming, but when you’re waiting and waiting and then BLAM, the air shattering with the force of those blanks going off. I cringed uncontrollably at every take...

Being at the LA Gun Club triggered (no pun intended) that memory. The damn noise of those handpieces going off. Even with the earphones on... Real or prop guns, I just forgot how friggin' loud they were...

You may ask, why did I put that memory out of my mind? After all, I wasn’t really shot. It was just a movie.

But it was a pretty crappy one.

Wasn’t my friend’s fault; he had nothing to work with. The movie had zero budget, a lightning fast shooting schedule and difficult actors -- one of the former TV stars was hitting the sauce between takes and repeatedly flubbed the lines. Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget the corpse that kept flinching at all the loud noises...

Friday, June 04, 2004

Gotta take a few days off from running. I've been overdoing it. My legs are like a college campus after spring-break parties - the quads are a wreck. Lugged through a 10K last weekend, but tried to at least look good for da ladies...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

This weekend, I'm doing a table reading of my friends' script. They're planning to produce a feature, and they want me to cast me in one of the roles. I'm not an actor, but my fellow writers occasionally ask me to perform in their films. Last time I played a serial killer for a dark comedy short. This time I think I'm gonna be a bank robber. I don't what's weirder – having somewhat of an acting career despite any thespian aspirations, or the fact that I keep getting cast as a criminal, even though I'm really a law-abiding citizen. Hey, I won't even remove the tag on my mattress.

Maybe it has to do with my other plans for this weekend: Going to a shooting range at the LA Gun Club. Now, let me make it clear: I'm not into guns. I don't own one, don't read Soldier of Fortune, not really into Charlton Heston flicks. But I do like action movies and crime novels, and since I try to write them, too, it's good to research these things. I once went to a gun convention while I was out in Vegas. Fascinating, from an anthropological point of view. There sure are a lot of whackos out there.

Now, some gun enthusiasts I've met happen to be intelligent, responsible, well-spoken individuals. I've come to realize that there are normal arms-bearerers out there, people who do not fit the stereotype of the inbred ultra-right wing weapon-toting yokels.

And then there's Jeff. Jeff was a low-talking doofus I used to hang out with. Don't know why. Maybe it was my anthropological interest in the subculture of semi-Neanderthals.

Jeff owned guns. A .357 Magnum and a Glock 9. I asked why he bought 'em. "Protection," he said. Protection from what? "I dunno…" He thought for a long moment. At least I think he was thinking. With that vacant stare of his, it was hard to tell if there was anything going on upstairs. Finally he said, "Burglars, I guess."

Who the hell would burglarize Jeff's crappy studio? What would they want to steal? His ratty old futon? That piece of shit 12-inch black-and-white TV? Jeff rarely held down a job; he never seemed to have any money. The most expensive thing he owned were those friggin' guns.

I probably shouldn't make fun of him too much. I’m no one to talk. I stupidly ventured out with him to try out his new "toys". Maybe Jeff was the smart one here, getting me to use his sidearms. As Nelson from The Simpsons said, "Can't hurt to have a second set of prints on a gun…"

So did we go to a shooting range, a safe environment to test a lethal weapon? No. We did it total redneck style. Drove out on some rural road, went into an empty field and set up a target.

The target happened to be a cardboard cutout of some movie Danny DeVito was in. I got nothing against DeVito. He was funny on "Taxi" and I really enjoyed the movie "Get Shorty". So there was no meaning to taking aim at the diminutive dude; his standee was what was available at the time.

When it was my turn to shoot, I took the Magnum. I felt powerful with that hand-cannon. Like God must feel, when He's holding a gun (to quote the Simpsons again). Lined up Danny's face in my sights, pulled the trigger.

I realize now that it was stupid to do this without safety glasses or ear protection, especially considering how close to my own face I held the gun. Fortunately, I didn't go blind or deaf. Though it was loud – Magnums don't go pop or bang. They go BLAMMO! Another thing I learned about .357s – they've got a strong kickback. The barrel went upward, bonked me on the top of the head.

After I was done rubbing my forehead, I looked out at the target. Did I get Shorty? You betcha. Nailed him right between the eyes.

So I tried again, but this time held the gun out, my arms extended. That little bit of distance ruined it. I couldn't hit anything. I guess if I wanna have good aim, I'd have to hold the gun close and get a concussion each time I fire.

Or practice. Or try a lighter gun. (Of course, I mean a weapon that weighs less, not one of those novelty guns that's really a cigarette lighter.)

But Jeff had the lighter gun – the Glock 9. He guffawed at my inept marksmanship, then held out his piece, trying to look cool by holding it sideways.

What he didn't know is that semi-automatics use shell casings that pop out and off to the right side, out of the shooter's way. But if you're a schmuck holding the pistol gangsta-style, to-the-right becomes straight-up.

Jeff fired – pop – the shell arced upward toward him, and swish—right down his shirt.

I never found out if Jeff hit the target. I was too busy watching him dancing frantically to get the hot metal casing from burning the skin on his stomach. I'll never forget that sight. Nor the smell – gunpowder mixed with singed chest hair.

That was the end of my dealings with weapons of self-destruction. I figure it's gotta go better this weekend, though. Surely it's a smarter way to do research for writing about criminals, or portraying them. At the gun club, there will be a safety lecture, skilled and experienced supervision, and most of all, no Jeff.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

My friend Jerry and I used to waste time at work coming up with captions for his desk calendar's wacky photos (copyright Andrews McMeel Publishing - don't sue!). Later (at a much better job) everyone got involved, and it turned into a work-wide daily caption contest. Sometimes the funniest ones won; sometimes the stupidest. Now you can be the judge. Or you can come up with your own caption. I dare ya. Maybe this will catch on. But I can't promise I'll do this every day, or every week, or, uh, ever again. We'll see...

Boy: And I want to thank the Roosevelt Elementary Cafeteria's meatloaf special for making this performance possible.
Teacher: Oh, dear. He's sold out!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by